Red Sox need to trade for a catcher with Christian Vazquez out 6-8 weeks
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox may need to look to the trade market to add a catcher following the news that Christian Vazquez will be out for a while.
There are only a few weeks left before the MLB trade deadline and the Boston Red Sox have a late addition to their shopping list. This team needs a catcher.
It wasn’t long ago that the Red Sox seemed fairly settled at the catcher position. That’s no longer the case with Christian Vazquez undergoing surgery to repair a broken pinky finger. He’s expected to miss 6-8 weeks, potentially pushing his return until after rosters expand in September. Any setback could result in Vazquez being lost for the season.
That leaves Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart to handle catching duties in the meantime. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski claims he’s fine with that duo and won’t prioritize catching at the trade deadline. Do we believe him?
We shouldn’t – and not simply because Dealin’ Dave loves a good trade. A contending team needs a catcher they can rely on at the plate and behind it.
Underwhelming internal options
Leon has recovered from a brutal start offensively to post a solid .250 average and .683 OPS. That’s about the middle of the pack as far as catchers go. The problem is he’s notoriously prone to extended slumps. He was on fire in the month of May and parts of June but has started to fade in recent weeks.
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The 29-year old has never played in more than 85 games in a season. He’s already nearly halfway to that total and will fly by it if he handles the bulk of the catching duties while Vazquez is out. How will Leon respond to a heavy increase in his workload?
In order to prevent Leon from breaking down, the Red Sox will be forced into relying more on Swihart as their backup catcher. He’s never been able to prove that he can handle the defensive responsibilities behind the plate. Those shortcomings would be more forgivable if he could hit. Sadly, he hasn’t been able to do that either. Swihart is batting .185 with a .460 OPS in 88 plate appearances this season.
The organization gave up on any shred of hope that Swihart could become a viable catcher by experimenting with him at essentially every other position. Swihart became a super-utility player who could play catcher in a pinch. This is more than a pinch. The Red Sox need a catcher they can count on to start at least a couple times per week.
I’m generally an optimist. I want to look at this as Swihart’s last opportunity to redeem his value. Maybe his bat will heat up with more consistent playing time. Maybe he’ll improve behind the plate if the team commits to actually treating him like a catcher. I want to believe that yet Swihart has shown us nothing over the last three years to warrant that faith.
Who could they trade for?
If Swihart falters over the next few weeks and Leon slumps under the burden of an increased workload then the Red Sox will have no choice but to scour the trade market for a catcher.
They don’t have the chips to land J.T. Realmuto, one of the few players the Miami Marlins aren’t eager to trade. What about another All-Star catcher? The Tampa Bay Rays aren’t contenders so they should consider dealing Wilson Ramos before he hits free agency this winter.
Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cervelli and Texas’ Robinson Chirinos are other options from potential deadline sellers. Cervelli is signed for $11.5 million next season, which may be too rich for a Boston team that already committed to Vazquez long-term. Chirinos has an affordable team option for 2019, although that may entice the Rangers to keep him.
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Any of those options would be an upgrade over the pair the Red Sox have at their disposal. If they become available then Dombrowski has to at least kick the tires. It won’t take a blockbuster deal that empties what’s left in the farm system to improve at the catcher position.